IFPO Chief Executive, Aodh O Donnell, Opinion Piece for The Marine Times:

Marine Minister, Charlie McConalogue has welcomed a commitment by Fisheries Commissioner, Virginijus Sinkevičius, to undertake a full evaluation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The Commissioner announced the evaluation at an informal Meeting of Fisheries Ministers held in Bruges, Belgium on 24 and 25 March 2024.

The Commissioner’s announcement must, however, be approached with a strong sense of realism. The current Commission is coming to the end of its life cycle and a new college will take over towards the end of the year. As it stands, the Commissioner’s announcement only means that there will be an evaluation document of the CFP for handing over to the next Commissioner.

This process will have no legal value and the the incoming Commissioner can choose to use or ignore this during the term of his / her mandate. The Commission will lead this evaluation process and – critically under the CFP – they have no obligation to include Irish Fishery stakeholders. Most fundamentally, we understand that this process does not act as a pledge to review the CFP nor to revise this policy and its implementation.

The Irish fishing industry fully welcomes and endorses Minister McConalogue’ s frank articulation of the challenges we face, arising from the disastrous Brexit giveaway of Irish Quotas.  We support his call ‘for a comprehensive analysis of Brexit’s impact on the functioning of the CFP, including the impact on EU and Member States’ fishing opportunities’. But time is not on our side and a CFP evaluation is unlikely ‘to help the sector address challenges’.

The Irish Seafood sector is still reeling from the Brexit deal’s impacts on catching and onshore coastal employment. The disproportionate Brexit Quota transfer from Ireland is totally at variance with the level playing field provision of the CFP.  An evaluation is insufficient, and an urgent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is required, underpinned by a rebalancing of the quota position. Ireland holds 12% of the EU waters but just 5.6% of the quotas. This imbalance must be addressed, or we face terminal decline of the sector.

The solution is simple and requires commitment and resolve at Ministerial and Government level. Without a radical and early intervention, vital coastal jobs will be lost permanently. The international scale of the sector is being eroded and opportunities handed over to our competitors who continue to grow and prosper. Valuable overseas food markets will be supplied by our competitors, with a significant volume of product caught in our waters – but not by the Irish fleet.

A ‘whole of Government’ approach is a prerequisite for change. A superficial evaluation process will not deliver. The Sector is coming together and is uniting in our demands for change to start now. An urgent meeting with the Minister, his officials and our permanent representation in Europe is called for as first steps in ‘mapping’ a pathway for Europe to deliver its mandate for Irish peripheral Communities.